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Wild West - February 2014 - Letters From Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: November 26, 2013 
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Josie's Age
In Lee Silva's "Pioneers & Settlers" article [October 2013] about Wyatt Earp and Josie's marriage, I was wondering about some of the dates. At one spot it says that Wyatt was 21 years older than Josie (1910 census lists Wyatt as 62 and Josie as 41). He was in his mid-30s, if I remember correctly, at the time of the gunfight. That would make her quite young at the time. It could have been a typo or incorrectly logged on the census when it was compiled 113 years ago. So, how old was Josie when they met in Tombstone?

John David Burns
Jackson, Miss.

Editor responds: Thank you for doing the math and pointing out the mistake. Josie was born in New York City in late 1860 or early 1861 and was probably 22 when she caught Wyatt's eye in Tombstone. Lee Silva said the 1910 census was handwritten and hard to decipher, and while he read Josie's listed age as 41, it most likely read 51.

'I have noticed a trend by some writers to be overly exact by calling it the "Gunfight Near the O.K. Corral." I have no quarrel with them, although I personally prefer the more catchy title of old'

Will McLaury
I compliment you on producing a fine publication, especially the October 2013 issue. Paul Lee Johnson's article on William McLaury ["The Will of McLaury"] was of special interest, as I have been researching and studying the "Earp saga" since the early 1970s. I was the research partner of Alford Turner, who wrote two of the most accurate books of Earpiana: The Earps Talk and The O.K. Corral Inquest. During our many research trips we encountered the redoubtable Will McLaury in various documents that covered his machinations behind the scenes of the Earp/Holliday hearing in November 1881. However, we did not uncover much information regarding his private life or his involvement with Tom and Frank before the fight. Thanks to Johnson, we now know more about the McLaurys than before.

Ever since I can remember, the West's most famous gunfight was referred to as the "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." But lately I have noticed a trend by some writers to be overly exact by calling it the "Gunfight Near the O.K. Corral." I have no quarrel with them, although I personally prefer the more catchy title of old. As a matter of interest, did you know that when Wyatt Earp reluctantly mentioned the gunfight, he always referred to it as simply the "Street Fight"? On the map he drew of the gunfight for the John Flood manuscript, he labeled it the Street Fight.

William Oster
Mira Loma, Calif.

Paul Lee Johnson responds. Thank you for your comments. I remember Al Turner and his passion for the subject of Wyatt Earp. Like Al, I hope I have added something of value to the understanding of those events, times and people.

Diamond Hoax
I very much enjoyed John Koster's article "The Great Diamond Hoax of 1872," in the October 2013 issue. I first encountered the hoax tale when I was researching Shakespeare, N.M., for a "Ghost Town" article for Wild West. Because the mines in Shakespeare were owned by William Ralston at the time, Shakespeare was also considered a possible location for the secret diamond occurrence, which, as John has reported, was actually in northwestern Colorado.

As a retired geologist who worked for 27 years in the Department of the Interior, both for the USGS and BLM, I doubt that experienced and respected geologist Clarence King would have been suckered in by the presence of emeralds and rubies along with diamonds. Diamonds occur in very different rocks than emeralds or rubies and are completely different chemically. Koster states that all precious stones are forms of crystallized carbon, which is incorrect—something a geologist or serious mineral collector or lapidary enthusiast would know but would not be common knowledge. Diamonds are crystallized carbon (so is graphite, one of the softest of minerals), but emeralds are green beryls, composed of beryllium, aluminum, silicon and oxygen, with the green color caused by minor chromium, while rubies and sapphires are gem varieties of corundum, composed of aluminum and oxygen, with the colors caused by trace amounts of chromium, iron or titanium. Diamonds occur in rocks called kimberlite pipes, while the others are metamorphic minerals that occur in rocks of very different chemistry. They also don't occur stratified by color; it's a matter of what trace elements were available where the gems crystallized.

The presence of emeralds and rubies in the same area as diamonds should have been an instant red flag to a man of King's experience. It's not hard to see why Asbury Harpending would cast aspersions on King, as King uncovered the hoax (and many still believe Harpending was in on it), costing Harpending a lot of money. A very interesting case, and, as usual, we won't ever know all the details until we invent a time machine. Again, I enjoyed Koster's article, the best summary of the hoax I have seen to date.

Jim Pettengill
Ridgway, Colo.

Suicide and Custer
I must respond to John Koster's statement in his June article "Desperate Flight From the Little Bighorn" that "Indians are not at all superstitious about suicide." My father was very good friends with Robert Afraid of Bear, an old Lakota with a fantastic headdress of earned eagle feathers. I'm in my mid-70s. Robert was getting on in years when I was a kid, listening to their conversations in a mixture of English, Lakota and sign language. Afraid of Bear said his mother was with the women who went in and scalped the dead after the Battle of the Little Bighorn (the standard procedure, if they were available). That, like processing game, etc., was "woman's work." Dad asked him specifically, "Who got Custer's scalp?" Without hesitation Robert said: "Nobody. Evil spirits. Bad wounded. Shot himself. Nobody touch." I think I'll take the word of one whose mother was there over someone who thinks he knows more about it.

Bill D. Hallsted
Hot Springs, S.D.

John Koster responds: Custer's body had no powder burns to the head, as reported by many witnesses. Several Indian men and at least one woman claimed to have killed Custer. I have a good friend whose great-grandmother was there too. He is a full-blooded Lakota, related to Sitting Bull. According to all witnesses, Custer's hair was cut so short that scalping would have been a waste of time. Plains Indians did, and do, have a world-class problem with suicide, but they aren't afraid of it. I wish they were.

Sheriff Dunn
At one time my grandfather Amen Dunn was sheriff of Seminole County in Oklahoma. There was a dance one night, and Belle Starr and her gang rode into town and entered the establishment where the dance was being held. They held their guns on my grandfather, and Belle demanded he dance with her. She danced two songs with my grandfather and then rode out of town. My grandfather said she was not a good-looking woman.

I asked him what was the most frequent problem he had to deal with. He said when it rained, they put wooden planks on the streets for people to walk on when crossing the street. Two guys would meet out on the planks and neither one would back up or step off to let the other guy by and would end up fighting. He would have to stop them.

Jim Whittington
Eufaula, Okla.

Correction
In the "Constable Earp of Cibola" item on P. 10 of "Roundup" in the December 2013 issue we mistakenly spelled the town of Blythe, Calif., with an "i" instead of a "y." We apologize to everyone who has ever lived in Blythe, including Wild West special contributor Lee A. Silva.

 

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